It’s been some time but the UFC will make its long awaited return to Japan this Saturday with UFC 144. Lightweights are charged with kicking off the main card when “J-Lau” Joe Lauzon (21-6) encounters “Showtime” Anthony Pettis (14-2). Japanese sensation Hatsu Hioki (23-4-2) will meet “Bartimus” Bart Palaszewski (35-13) and “Thunder” Yushin Okami (26-6) takes on “The Barbarian” Tim Boetsch (14-4). Jake Shields (26-6-1) and “Sexyama” Yoshihiro Akiyama (14-5) engage in a promising welterweight showdown. Cheick Kongo (17-6-2) could be in for a kickboxing clinic when he battles K-1 veteran “Super Samoan” Mark Hunt (7-7). Before “The Answer” Frankie Edgar (14-1-1) defends his lightweight title against “Smooth” Ben Henderson (14-2) in the main event, a co-main event of epic proportions has been set as “Darth” Ryan Bader (13-2) flies to foreign territory to take on “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (31-9). Jackson, an accomplished veteran, and Bader, a promising star, are at pivotal points in their careers and a victory at UFC 144 can be the very defining moment on which to perch their futures.
At First Glance: Still trying to surge back from a rocky 2011, Ryan Bader will seek to win a possibly career-defining match when he takes on former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Quinton Jackson. Bader’s moxy of being an undefeated 205lbs. powerhouse was shot down after two consecutive submission losses but after bouncing back with a knockout victory over Jason Brilz (18-5-1), he could get the ball rolling towards the marquee fights once again. Jackson is returning to battle after failing to seize the light heavweight title for a second time when he was submitted for the first time since 2001. Considered a hero in Japan, a win would not only bring feelings of nostalgia to Jackson, but can keep his name alive within the top ranks of the light heavyweight division.
In Depth: It is best to lay this out on the line early: this is a dangerous fight for Bader. It would be crude to say that the fight is one-sided but experience alone leaves Bader wanting as Jackson has seen the tougher competition in his 12-year career. Time aside, both men can be seen relatively the same. Both are decorated wrestlers but once they found the power to let their fists end fights, they started looking for the explosive knockout finish at some cost of their foundation. Unlike “Rampage”, Bader has yet to fully abandon his wrestling offensively and has chosen to integrate it with his stand-up just as he did with “Lil Nog” Antonio Rogerio Nogueria (19-5). Bader understands the submission aspect of grappling as his Arm-Triangle submission over “Kingsbu” Kyle Kingsbury (11-3) will also support but here is where the line can be drawn for The Ultimate Fighter 8 205lbs. winner. Jackson may not opt to shoot for a takedown or seek a submission frequently but his defense is hard to overcome. Jackson has hit the mat against his will only due to complete martial artists such as “Suga” Rashad Evans (17-1-1) and has been submitted only twice, by the likes of “Bones” Jon Jones (15-1) and “The Gracie Hunter” Kazushi Sakuraba (24-16-1). Bader’s skills are far behind those of these three men. Assuming Jackson plays for the knockout rather than utilizing his own superiority in the clinch, Bader will have to play a more tight-knit and diverse game and refrain from slugging it out with a star who arguably carries the heavier hands.
Wild Card: Jackson’s motivation and drive entering a fight is always the X-factor for any match he is in but unlike his title match with Jon Jones, the reasons for training against Bader is different. First, he is coming off a notable defeat in which he finally was stopped within the organization. Secondly, Jackson is fighting again in Japan where under PRIDE FC, his career launched into stardom in a four-sided ring before he entered the Octagon. With a return to Japan, “Rampage” might look to please the crowd in in the very fashion that made him a rising star in MMA.
The Verdict: As much as Bader is looking to rebuild himself and rise out of 2011’s ashes, Jackson will be his toughest challenge to date. Jackson has all the weapons needed to get the job done; it is just a matter of whether he will choose to use them to their full extent. Both are tough fighters to put away but with Bader playing in Jackson’s playground in the Far East, he will have a long night ahead of him with a motivated “Rampage” to worry about. Jackson via Unanimous Decision